Exit Interview Tips

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Exit Interview Tips

What is Exit Interview?  The goal of an exit interview is to understand the departing employee’s experience with our company and their reason for leaving. But why are we waiting until they leave to find this out? In an era of high turnover and a war on talent, we can’t afford to wait until our employees leave to find out what their concerns are. We need to figure them out while they’re still with us. That’s where stay interviews come in.

Stay interviews are conducted to find out what keeps our employees with our company, and more importantly, what would cause them to leave. Beyond that, we’re giving employees a voice. Often, employees feel they don’t have a voice – that their opinion doesn’t matter. Stay interviews are a huge win for our companies, but they’re also making our employees feel valued. Studies have shown that when employees are able to openly communicate about what they’re facing in the workplace, they’re more likely to be happier and perform better.

But Don’t We Have Engagement / Pulse Surveys for That?

You may ask why stay interviews are needed when you conduct engagement or pulse surveys. According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, 80 percent of employees feel like HR won’t act on the results of engagement surveys and 29 percent think they’re pointless. Their problem isn’t just the survey – it’s the lack of action taken as a result of those surveys. This only contributes to the view of many employees: that they don’t have a voice.

When we send out a survey, we’re asking a certain set of questions to our employees, often with yes or no answers. Even where there is a text box, most companies analyze the yes/no data and make blanket recommendations, if any at all, based on the anonymized or confidential data. There is no ability to ask follow-up questions within the surveys and we’re often left with more questions than answers. We usually try to figure out who said what and end up assigning blame, often to the wrong people. What about the people that didn’t take the survey? Are they disengaged, do they just not care, or are they happy and had nothing to say? And who are they?

The Status Quo Won’t Work

Defensiveness often comes into play. It’s natural, especially for small business owners who work incredibly hard to have a successful business, provide the most comfortable life they can for their employees – even if it means sacrificing themselves, and don’t have the resources to make drastic changes.

We can’t stick with the status quo. We can’t let hurt feelings prevent us from acting. Action doesn’t have to be expensive. Maybe it’s a bad manager and you’re not seeing it because you’re only getting the manager’s point-of-view. Maybe it’s that our employees don’t feel they have a path for growth. Work on career pathing with your team. And what about the good things? You need to know what you’re doing well so you can continue doing it.

Your employees are trying to help you be better. They’re trusting you. And that brings me to my next point…

Not Everyone Will Talk to Just Anyone

Who is going to do the interviews? These are face-to-face interviews. They shouldn’t be done by the employee’s manager or the owner of the company. If you have HR that has built good relationships with your employees (which they should do), give them the reins and let them own the project. If that isn’t an option and you have an operations leader that people can trust, have them do it. Whoever is doing it should own the project, but they should never interview their own direct reports. If you don’t have an internal option, you can always hire an outside consultant. It may be needed if you don’t have an internal option, as that is showing the lack of trust within the company.

Remember, employees may fear retaliation or some other form of punishment for what they say. It’s important to create a safe, friendly environment for them to open up and tell the interviewer how they feel about their workplace. They want to be heard, but they also want an environment where they feel comfortable to voice what they have to say. It’s not necessary to tell managers you’re doing it, I’d actually advise against it to prevent any influenced comments. You’ll want to interview managers as well, but your front-line employees are going to be the ones that have the feedback you need the most. Managers often have a voice; employees often don’t.

The Interview 

Try to setup a meeting with each employee and sit down with them to understand them better. It’s important to frame it as more of a conversation versus an interview. Ask two questions: “what keeps you here?” and “if you had a magic wand, what would you change?”  Ask follow-up questions as necessary.

Taking Action

Now it’s important to take the feedback, consolidate it, and understand where there were commonalities and where there were differences. The commonalities were acted on first. These were mostly free changes – such as coaching management to be more effective leaders. The changes don’t have to be expensive to make a big impact.

Stay interviews can be handled efficiently, drive needed improvements to our businesses, and the return on investment can yield huge dividends in employee attitude and bottom line. Studies have shown that when employees are able to openly communicate about what they’re facing in the workplace, they’re more likely to be happier and perform better. Opening up communication channels may seem like a small thing, but it’s incredibly meaningful for our employees. When employees are happy at work, businesses reap the profits.

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